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Philippine Congress Shuts Down Leading Broadcaster ABS-CBN

2020-07-10 11:07:38
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MANILA — Philippine lawmakers on Friday formally shut down the country’s largest broadcast network, the latest major blow against the news media as President Rodrigo Duterte cracks down on outlets that have been critical of his leadership.

After 13 hearings, a committee of the House of Representatives — most of whose members are allied with Mr. Duterte — voted by an overwhelming majority to deny ABS-CBN’s application for renewal of its broadcast franchise. The network had been forced off the air in May, after the franchise expired.

“We remain committed to public service, and we hope to find other ways to achieve our mission,” said Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN’s president and chief executive, in a statement on Friday. He said the network was “deeply hurt.”

The president’s spokesman, Harry Roque, sought to distance Mr. Duterte from the decision.

“The palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two coequal branches of government,” he said. “Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee.”

The government has accused ABS-CBN of illegally operating a cable channel, as well as hiding behind what it called a “corporate veil” that allowed foreign investors to own part of the firm. ABS-CBN has denied the allegations.

Fourteen lawmakers who sponsored bills backing the network argued that the hearings had not proven that ABS-CBN broke any regulations that warranted its closure.

“Seventy million Filipinos tune to its programs weekly,” they said in a joint statement. “Now more than ever, in the time of a pandemic, we need a vibrant and independent source of information and news to tell the people what is going on.”

Nonoy Espina, who heads the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said that lawmakers who were seeking to block the franchise renewal had “gripes” to settle. By voting to shut down ABS-CBN, Mr. Espina said, the House “has lost all claim to represent the people and our interests.”

The congressional hearings did shine a light on some shortcomings of big media networks, including unfair labor practices and a lack of self-regulation, analysts said.

“But legislators have no business to say how media should operate,” said Danilo Arao, a journalism professor at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. ABS-CBN, he said, “is being singled out.”

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